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February 06, 2005

Book review: The Acceptable Sacrifice, by John Bunyan

I just finished reading John Bunyan's book "The Acceptable Sacrifice", and I'm going summarize a few points from the book that I especially benefitted from (with some quotes) and then give a brief review of the book, which I recommend.

For my birthday last year, my wife gave me the set of "Puritan Paperbacks", and "The Acceptable Sacrifice" is one of this set. I've read a few of these now, as our pastor had recommended a number of them even before I got the set. You can buy the set as a whole, plus Amazon also seems to have most of the individual books. They have this one, and it's also available for free online in various places, like here.

The book is really an exposition of Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." I'll summarize a bit in the review part below, but let me first give a few points that especially spoke to me.

Bunyan has a chapter dealing with "Keeping the heart tender" and it really deals with how Christians need to keep our hearts tender (broken and contrite) before God, rather than allowing ourselves to become hard-hearted. A significant part of the book deals with exactly what it means to have a broken, tender, contrite heart. But, very briefly, it means being sorry for our sins and sinful nature, having true humility, recognizing our spiritual poverty, valuing God's word, and therefore looking to God (and the work of Jesus Christ) alone for salvation, not to ourselves at all. After dealing with these aspects, as well as why it's necessary, Bunyan gives some reasons why Christians should keep their hearts tender (in his words, but he expands on each of these points):
  1. This is the way to maintain in thy soul always a fear of sinning against God...
  2. A tender heart quickly yields to prayer, yea, prompts to it, puts an edge and fire into it...
  3. A tender heart has always repentance at hand for the least fault, slip or sinful thought that the soul is guilty of.
  4. A tender heart is for receiving often its communion with God...
  5. A tender heart is a wakeful, watchful heart...
  6. A tender heart will deny itself, and that in lawful things, and will forbear even that which may be done, lest ... the church of God, or any member of it, should be offended...
  7. A tender heart -- I mean, the heart kept tender -- preserves from many a blow, lash, and fatherly chastisement...

I think even from that it should be obvious that we need God to give us tender hearts, and we need to do more to maintain them. Often, I lack a fear of sinning against God. Remember how Joseph, when tempted by Potiphar's wife, said, "How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" That's what I need to always see clearly. Also, prayer is often difficult, and I am slow to repent, especially of sins of thought. I often fail to be watchful, as well. I need a tender heart, and I need to maintain it once I have it.

So, what can we do to maintain tender hearts? Bunyan gives some practical advice (here I'm loosely quoting and/or paraphrasing):

  1. "Take heed that you choke not those convictions that at present do break your hearts, by labouring to put those things out of your minds which were the cause of such convictions; but rather nourish and cherish those things in a deep and sober remembrance of them. Think, therefore, with thyself thus, 'What was it that first did wound my heart? And let that still be there, until, byt he grace of God, and the redeeming blood of Christ, it is removed.'"
  2. Shun vain company: Be careful who we spend time with and how it affects us
  3. Take heed of idle talk (i.e. gossip)
  4. "Beware of the least motion to sin" -- he gives the example of how David saw Bathsheba bathing. I would put this, "Do not tolerate even the slightest thought of sin."
  5. "Take heed of evil examples among the godly...": Be careful not to assume something is good simply because we see another Christian doing it.
  6. Take heed of unbelief, or atheistical thoughts

Here, the first point was especially beneficial: I know often, when I am grieved by something I've done, or some realization of my sinfulness, I try to get past it as quickly as possible, or not think of it to avoid becoming discouraged. Now, one can go too far and dwell on things to the point of depressing -- which is bad -- but those of us, like me, who are less prone to depression need to make sure that we not forget our sinfulness and what God would speak to us. Let's not go so far to avoid being discouraged that we miss what God is speaking to us about how we need to change. See our sin, and repent of it: Turn to Christ for forgiveness, don't just forget it.

Bunyan gives a few further directions:

  1. Labour after a deep knowledge of God, to keep it warm upon thy heart; knowledge of his presence, that it is everywhere...
  2. Labour to get and keep a deep sense of sin in its evil nature...
  3. Consider the pains of hell
  4. Consider death, both as to the certainty of thy dying, and the uncertainty of the time when.
  5. Consider, Christ Jesus did use no means to harden his heart against doing and suffering those sorrows which were necessary for the redenption of thy soul.

Bunyan also has a chapter on "Uses of the Doctrine". One point he makes is that we should not be afraid of having a broken heart when it is so beneficial. He says that he's observed that many try to avoid hearing sermons or reading books that would make them realize their sins and make them contrite. He says, "Man! man! thous hast cause to mourn; yea, thou must mourn if ever thou art saved. Wherefore my advice is that, instead of shunning, thou covet such books, such preachers, and such discourses, as have a tendency to make a man sensible of, and to break his heart for, sin."

Again, this is a point I can particularly benefit from: I need to see my sin more clearly, not less clearly, so I should seek out those things that will make me see it more clearly, not avoid them!


Bunyan's book "The Acceptable Sacrifice" is really excellent. It was a little tough getting going on it as initially the language is somewhat difficult to understand, but by the end of the book, it wasn't a problem anymore. And the book is quite short; less than 120 pages with fairly large type, so it really wasn't that difficult.

Much of the book deals with why a broken heart is excellent, what it is, how it is broken, why it must be broken, and why it is so valuable to God. I really can't go in to details here, but that's all worth reading. It's quite clear that Bunyan realized that no one can be saved unless God works in him or her, and so he talks about how God must break our hearts before we will ever come to him for salvation. Once establishing that, Bunyan gives us some marks we can use to test whether our hearts really were broken.

I recommend this book. It's a very good read, and I think it will spur me on to read more of Bunyan's other works aside from Pilgrim's Progress. I found the parts I discussed above -- on keeping our hearts tender, etc. -- especially helpful.

This is really a rich book, theologically and devotionally, I think. Very good.

Posted by D. Mobley at February 6, 2005 04:40 PM

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